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Call it an educated guess, but veteran Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer figures that when Florida’s new “Stand Your Ground” law takes effect next October the first self-defense claim he’ll see will involve a road rage shooting. “We already see many cases like that involving firearms. Now, they’ll be more inclined to pull the trigger,” Krischer said.Under Florida’s existing law, what’s known as the “castle doctrine” authorizes homeowners and residents to shoot intruders in their homes when they reasonably believe their safety is in jeopardy. The new law passed last month and, pushed by the National Rifle Association, expands that authorization to shoot at attackers “literally everywhere,” Krischer said. Gone will be “the duty to retreat” from potentially bloody confrontations that’s now built into Florida’s criminal justice statutes. Instead, the law will recognize that everyone has “the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force” if they reasonably believe it’s necessary to avoid death or serious injury. Under such circumstances, those who kill or wound will have immunity from both criminal prosecution and civil liability. The new law will give them a general legal presumption that they acted out of “reasonable fear.” And they’ll be entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees, court costs and lost income incurred in defending any civil lawsuit filed by their victims. An early provision in the bill would have put prosecutors and police on the hook to the “wrongfully prosecuted” for damages, but that idea was dropped. Also gone from the version that passed 39-0 in the Senate and 94-20 in the House was a provision that prosecutors have said would have allowed people to shoot in defense of a neighbor’s property. Sponsored by Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, and signed late last month by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida’s new law has become the NRA’s model for legislation in other states, according to Marion Hammer, executive director of Tallahassee-based Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the NRA’s Florida legislative affiliate. “As [NRA] executive vice president Wayne LaPierre has said we are going to move across the nation from the red states to the blue states,” Hammer said. “Other states have pieces of what we now have in Florida; this is a good, reasonable self-defense package.” To make that happen, the NRA Political Victory Fund Political Action Committee pumped a lot of cash into Tallahassee. State election records show that since 2003 the PAC has contributed $55,000 to the Florida Republican Party and to Republican Senate and House majority committees, including $10,000 to the Senate Majority 2006 Campaign in February.But Florida prosecutors don’t think the new law is reasonable or necessary. They think it will promote more gunplay and provide more excuses for mayhem. Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, calls it the “shoot your Avon Lady law.” “There are no horror stories about someone being prosecuted unjustly for defending his home or others,” Meggs said. “Our position is that we don’t have any problem now, so what is it we’re fixing?” “All this may do is give a legal defense to a bad person who would otherwise be prosecuted. The person who is dead doesn’t get to say what they were going to do,” Meggs said. Broward State Attorney Mike Satz holds a similar view. “We’re not aware of any case in the past in which someone who was defending himself was inappropriately prosecuted, so I don’t think the law was really necessary. It’s certainly foreseeable that someone will try to take inappropriate advantage of this new law in the future,” Satz said. “Once the public realizes there is no real penalty, I think they will be more apt to use guns,” Krischer said. “People tell me, ‘Krischer, what are you complaining about? You’re going to have less cases to prosecute.’ That may be true, but I still live in this society, and I just don’t believe this is reasonable.” A spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle deferred comment to the prosecutor’s association. Hammer, though, says change was needed to restore and codify centuries-old, common law rights to self-defense in the home and elsewhere that courts have eroded. She said prosecutors have gone after homeowners who shoot to defend their lives and homes. Hammer cites the case of a Taylor County man named Jared L. Fowler, charged with manslaughter in February. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Fowler told deputies that Don J. Bain came to his mobile home in Perry shortly after midnight on Feb. 20, shouting and spoiling for a fight. When Fowler refused to go outside, the paper reported, Bain forced his way inside, started beating Fowler and threatened to kill him before Bain was shot as the pair struggled over a shotgun. On April 18, a Taylor County grand jury refused to return an indictment against Fowler. “Prosecutors are always looking for somebody to prosecute and too often it’s the victim. They are part of the problem,” Hammer said. While self-defense rights will broaden, both sides agree it’s not yet clear how exactly the new law will impact cases. That will be determined when the Florida Supreme Court redraws the state’s jury instructions, they say. “This could potentially affect all self-defense cases where we suggest the evidence points to something else,” Krischer said. “The line to be drawn will evolve from how the jury instructions are drafted.” Everything that’s read to the jury today will be bad law after Oct. 1 because it talks about the duty to retreat. So prosecutors like Krischer hope that the high court’s standing jury instruction committee, which includes judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys from around the state, will get to it quickly. “If it’s left up to the judges to write their own jury instructions individually there will be convictions that get overturned,” Krischer said. The NRA will be watching, too. “Jury instructions were part of the problem that made us go ahead and push for this,” Hammer said. “If they get it wrong, we’ll be back to fix it again.” Given overwhelming support for the new law in Tallahassee, “Stand Your Ground” appears to be in Florida to stay. Only a stack of fresh bodies might change that. “It’ll take some track record, like cases of road rage where people are getting shot right and left,” Krischer said. “It’s going to be more dangerous. My wife doesn’t like me to honk the horn right now. She definitely won’t let me do it after Oct. 1.”

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